Tag Archives: picture books

writing, submitting and casting spells

sunset

Just a quick one from me as it’s half term and we’re about to head off for a few days to the Harry Potter Studios! My nine-year-old is a huge Harry Potter fan – he and I have both read all the books and watched (most of) the films. We’ve just been watching The Goblet of Fire to get ourselves in the mood. Very exciting – I’ll let you know how it goes! I may well cover Instagram with photos!

Before I go, I do have a teeny bit of news to report on the writing front. I’ve just submitted three picture book manuscripts to an agent! I really meant to send off a batch of five or six (one of the pieces of advice I heard at the Festival of Writing was to submit this way) but researching suitable agents and following the different submission guidelines takes time and I just wasn’t getting round to it. So, since I had an agent in mind who I knew I wanted to submit to, I figured I’d send my manuscripts to her first and go from there.

Submitting also meant I spent lots of time last week polishing my third manuscript (one and two were already good to go) and I’m pretty happy with it now. It’s the only non-rhyming book I’ve written and though I love rhyme, prose translates more easily, making it better in commercial terms (potential for huge international sales, see!) so I figured I should at least give it a go. The book was actually inspired by this picture I drew back in February – I had a hunch Stanley had a story so I’m quite chuffed to be right! Stanley's jumper

Oh, and on the subject of drawing, I had an inspiring conversation with a friend about all the pictures we’ve done this year. Plans are afoot – watch this space!

That’s it for now, I’m off to cast some spells.

Writing Bubble

where I’m at – #WhatImWriting

It’s Monday, the boys are back at school and it’s time for a proper ‘What I’m Writing’ post! I haven’t written about writing-y stuff for a while so there are a few things to catch up on.

trees

My ideal writer’s retreat – a forest glade in the sunshine. I haven’t retreated here to write yet (this was taken yesterday and I had two small boys with me) but I’m determined to at some point!

CampNaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) happens in November and is an online community of writers all aiming to write a novel in a month. A NOVEL IN A MONTH! Obviously I’m not crazy/talented/dedicated enough to attempt such a thing but I have signed up to the camp version which is this month. This is much more laid-back as you get to pick your own word count and your project can be anything word-related. I did it two years ago and wrote 15,000 words – it really helped with my motivation.

This time round I’ve set myself a target of 5,000 words because I want to focus on my picture books which aren’t really about word count at all. I’ve also decided to include blog posts in the target. Within this, there is also a hidden reading challenge as three of the blog posts I want to write are book reviews and I need to read the books first! So far, I’ve written 2194 words (although that doesn’t include this post!) but that’s all blogging and NO picture books! I WILL write some soon, I WILL!

London Book Fair

I’m going! I’m not quite sure what to expect but there are lots of interesting seminars to attend and people to network with, all in the area of writing and publishing and all under one roof, so it sounds fab to me! It’s this week and I’m combining it with a business conference and a meet up with some blogging friends, and also bookending it with nights at my parents house (I’m leaving my youngest with them) so it’s going to be a busy week. I fully expect to reach Friday exhausted with my head in a spin but I know it will be worth it.

Agent Submissions

I wrote a while back about having submitted some of my picture book manuscripts to agents. Thankfully at The Festival of Writing back in September we were all told how tricky it is to find an agent and how incredibly common rejection is, so the responses I’ve had (or rather, the three no responses, one rejection and a ‘we didn’t get your MS can you resend?’ followed by silence) haven’t really got to me. I just need to try again. The issue is finding the time to do so, as agent research and meeting the submission requirements is not a swift process. I know I’m procrastinating though and I just need to prioritise it. Basically, in my juggly life, unless I prioritise things, they don’t get done!

Blogging

Oh man, blogging is time-consuming, it really is. Not just the writing of posts (although I don’t seem to have a gift for speed, it has to be said) but the promotional activity (which I keep deciding I need to focus more on, then failing) and the social side (which is lovely but takes time and energy). When you’re a blogger who wants to write other things – novels, short stories or whatever – you do find yourself wondering if you’ve got the balance right. I do, anyway. Blogging is taking a lot of my focus at the moment. The blog post I wrote about education got so much attention (by my standards) that I’ve not felt able to concentrate on other types of writing because there’s been so much going in in my head. And there are more blog posts brewing too. I’m hoping CampNano helps me put some energy elsewhere.

I’d better leave it at that, I as I have planning, organising and packing to do for the week ahead!

Writing Bubble

about time – #WhatImWriting

I was hoping to have something exciting or proactive to report for #WhatImWriting this week and also to have written a post full of useful advice gleaned from the Writers Festival two weeks ago. But neither of those things have come about.

Why?

station clock

Time – or not having of nearly enough of it. Towards the end of the summer I was excited about the boys going back to school because I’ve always had more time to write during term time. I somehow forgot though, that this was almost entirely during my toddler’s nap time and that he’d dropped his nap just before the holidays began. So, since early September the house may have been quieter during the day but I’ve still had a small person to entertain! My golden two hours of writing time has gone.

So my plan to submit my picture books to agents has yet to materialise, I’m still not quite ready to send my limericks to beta readers, I’ve not been able to research self-publishing much and the blog has been mostly tumbleweed.

Still, as is always the case with writers, my brain has been whirring and I’ve had a few exciting ideas that could move things forward a bit faster with my limerick book. Only a teeny bit faster, but it still counts, right?

I’ve also been looking at picture books on my kindle just to see what’s out there. I’d previously written off the idea of any kindle sales at all in the kids book market but now I’m not so sure it’s completely impossible. It wouldn’t work as the only place to sell my limericks (by any stretch of the imagination), but as a way of bringing exposure to the actual, physical book I think there’s a chance it could help. I’m keen to research more.

I’ve also – kind of on the back of a blog post in which I shared my limerick and story out-takes – been wondering about putting together a collection of limericks for grownups too. That way I can write about drugs and scrotums to my hearts content!

All these lines of thought may make you realise I’m also feeling more positive again about the idea of self-publishing. I was feeling a little overwhelmed after the Writing Festival but now I figure I’ve got nothing at all to lose from submitting to Matador (who’ve already said they’d be happy to work with me) and getting quotes for various services they can offer. Getting a ball-park figure from an illustrator would certainly be useful, as would finding out more about all the potential costs involved in producing and distributing a book.

So I’m going to do that. And I’m also going to submit my first picture book to agents and continue with my research in all areas. I can’t promise I’ll have done it by next week but it will get done soon. I’ll get there.

Just as long as I can find the time. ;)

Writing Bubble

catch up – #WhatImWriting

September is here, the kids have gone back to school and – woo hoo! – #WhatImWriting is back!

After a summer without any of these sorts of writing posts I think a good catch-up post is in order… the problem is, my head is all over the place at the moment. Not in a bad way, but the summer was really full-on with all three boys at home, then the older two went back to school in the middle of last week and before I’d really had time to breathe I was off to York for a (fabulous) weekend at the Festival of Writing. I’m freshly returned from that and my head feels like it’s full to bursting with everything I’ve heard and learnt and with all the conversations I had with so many lovely people. I feel like I haven’t had proper time to think since July!

book spiral

So. This post is likely to be less of a perfectly-honed, shiny gem of a post and more of a roughly-hewn, chunk-out-of-a-limestone-cliff, sort of a thing. But maybe if I write it it will get me closer to working out where I am with my writing and what is next.

Right.

Um.

Ok, I’ll start with my limericks… in fact, wait a sec…. I’ll do this in an organised manner:

1) Limericks

I’ve been writing limericks for my blog for a couple of years, and have been wondering for a while now about publishing some in a book of some sort. I did have some published by Iron Press last year but I’m itching to do something a bit more substantial. Over the last few months a plan has started to take shape and I’ve been working on creating a limerick anthology for kids which I intend to have illustrated and then self-publish.

This summer I’ve been working towards this goal and have snatched every chance I can to write and edit limericks. I’m pleased to say I’ve nearly completed the collection. My plan is (or was) to request some beta readers this autumn and then start seriously looking for an illustrator and hopefully edit and hone and create a book that I can publish next year.

But then I went to the Festival of Writing which, although wonderful and inspiring, was also a bit of a reality check. Because I found myself in a room (multiple rooms in fact) surrounded by clever, talented people who share the same dream I do. Well, not exactly the same dream – I don’t think they’re all avid limerick-writers – but we were all there hoping to get published at some point and not only that, to ensure sales of those future books. I suddenly felt really aware of how stiff the competition was.

This very fact was also made very clear to us by the agents and publishers there. As the very funny (and sweary) David Maybury from Scholastic books said in a seminar (forgive the paraphrasing):

“All you lovely writers sitting there: you’re NOT going to get published. Oh f**k, I had that written down here and then ‘DO NOT SAY THIS’ written above it and now I’ve said it. It’s not true. Honestly. BUT it is really, really hard to get published.”

And he then went on to tell us about how, even if you did get published you might not sell many books and how it was all a gamble and people can get dropped by their publishers for not selling enough and… well… the reality of the marketplace did hit home.

But I then had a very positive one to one meeting with Jennifer Parker from Matador books (a huge boon of the festival is that you get one-on-ones with agents and publishers). Matador are a self-publishing company who I’ve heard good things about. They offer marketing and distribution along side other services and have various freelance illustrators they work with so lots to offer someone like me. They don’t automatically agree to you self-publishing with them so I was pleased to hear they’d be happy to work with me. Jennifer also had an illustrator she thought would fit with my limericks and encouraged me to submit my full set of limericks to them for a quote. If I choose to run with my self-publishing plan, this option clearly has potential.

But… I don’t know. It’s going to be expensive. Hiring an illustrator costs a lot. And the whole ‘crowded marketplace’ thing is really living with me. Do I want to do it this way? Do I want to do it at all? And most of all, do I have it in me to properly promote and market myself? Is it worth the risk and the pressure? I’m suddenly feeling completely unsure.

2) Picture books

I’ve been working on all three of my manuscripts over the summer. Millie Tweed (my first book) is now at a point where I plan on submitting her (her? definitely time to let go of that manuscript – she’s become real!), and Pete and the Aliens (my third book) is very nearly there too. Mr Magic (book no. two) however, has taken a turn for the worse and now needs to be ignored for a few weeks/months before being re-built.

Before the Writing Festival I was planning on submitting to publishers and agents but now I’m thinking I’ll try agents as a first port of call. Having heard more about how the publishing industry works, I understand far more now about how incredibly useful an agent could be. The right agent can help you shape your writing career, edit and hone your work and point you in the right direction for future endeavours. Of course they can’t guarantee publication but they make it a lot more likely and a smoother process too. So my aim is to send Millie and maybe Pete out to them soon and see where we go from there. Having spoken to other writers I expect this to be a lengthy process but I have to start somewhere.

3) Novel no. 1

Remember that middle-grade manuscript I was writing? No? Well I hardly do either but I’d love to get back to it! I have 7000 words written and masses of notes. It’s calling to me.

4) Novel no. 2

I wrote 55,000 words of a psychological thriller last year. I’d love to finish it although having been to the festival I’m now even more aware of how crap what I’ve written is!

5) This blog

I love blogging but it takes up a lot of valuable writing time. My toddler has just dropped his nap so that time is now even more limited. Obviously I’m not going to stop blogging completely but I feel like I need to re-think things.
So that’s me now. Not remotely clear headed and, as I warned, this was a bit of a roughly-hewn post! I will attempt to write something clearer for next week. Hopefully a proper post about the Writing Festival – I learnt a lot and would love to share it.

I’m looking forward to reading about how your summers have gone!

Writing Bubble

the truth about writing for kids

Over the last year the vast majority of what I’ve written has been for children. I’ve been working on three picture book manuscripts which I recently had appraised and have now re-written and tweaked to be ready to submit to agents/publishers this autumn. I’ve also been writing limericks for an illustrated poetry book for kids that I’m in the process of compiling.

B is for books

B is for… Books

And it’s been fun – I love writing for kids. But it does have its downsides. Quite apart from the fact that picture books and poems require endless hours of re-working, there’s a lot I write that I just can’t use because, well, it’s simply not appropriate. Maybe it’s just me with my wicked brain but sometimes the words take me down an entirely unsuitable path.

A case in point – one of my picture books is about a magic biscuit baker. I was writing a scene where the main character watches her fellow villagers going to his bakery and the affect it has on them:

 

But as the weeks went past she saw the others popping in

they went in with a frown but always came out with a grin

and everybody said how yummy all his biscuits tasted

‘Is he baking them with weed?’ She thought, ‘they really all look wasted!’

 

Needless to say, this didn’t make the cut!

Sometimes it’s not that the subject matter is risqué, it’s just not very child friendly:

 

There once was a fun-loving antelope

Who went to a dance on a party-boat

But while bustin’ some moves

She slipped on her hooves

Right into the path of a motorboat

 

Poor old antelope eh?  Such a grim ending doesn’t feel very kid-friendly (and to be honest the rhymes were awful anyway). Still, grizzly endings are probably better than inappropriate imagery:

 

There once was a lazy giraffe

Who’d spend hour upon hour in the bath

Till her skin would all shrivel

Top bottom and middle

“I look like a scrotum!” She’d laugh.

 

(no offence meant to scrotums of the world, I was just looking for a more interesting alternative to ‘raisin’)

So you see, in writing for kids I do lose an awful lot in editing. Maybe my next limericks (and picture books?!) will have to be for grownups?

And then the fun began...

Prose for Thought

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no rhyme or reason – #whatImwriting

The blogging side of my writing seesaw came crashing down again this week and I haven’t posted since last Tuesday. Of course this means the writing side of the seesaw went rocketing into the sky and I was really productive.

inside my head/ on my coffee table

inside my head / on my coffee table

Or at least it should mean that.

I’ve certainly put a lot of time into writing this week – I’ve been editing my picture books based on the feedback I received from the manuscript review service. I’ve spent hours taking apart verses and putting them back together again, trying to work out if there was a better rhyme for this or a more succinct way of phrasing that. I’ve had so many rhymes spinning round in my head that they’ve invaded my dreams, chattering frantically to get my attention, tugging at my sleeping brain until they’ve forced it into wakefulness.

And yet I still don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. I had a horrible feeling earlier today that all I was doing was ruining what I’d written, that I was cutting too much out and changing it too much. I’m sure this can’t actually be true. At least I hope it isn’t true but I’m definitley starting to doubt myself.

‘Take a break from it’ I thought. But my writing time is so limited and the summer holidays  – which herald no child-free time – are racing towards us so I feel the need to write while I can. Not tonight though; enough’s enough. It’s 8.45 on a Monday evening and once I’ve finished this post I’m having a glass of wine and doing something else. I don’t care what it is, as long as there are no aliens or cake or magical adventures. And absolutely no rhymes.

Here endeth the post (I’m off for some toast).

learning curve – #WhatImWriting

Last week I was feeling a bit flat, I’d been doing too much and achieving too little and it was all rather frustrating. This week, things are looking up. I’m still longing for more time to write (and fewer evenings where I just want to go to sleep) but I’ve achieved a fair bit nonetheless.

laptop and notepad

One of those achievements was finishing some beta reading and giving feedback. I’d like to thank Iona for letting me read her manuscript (I know from experience it’s scary putting your work out there in that way) and and also for the fantastic way she responded to my comments. I had been nervous about it because beta reading is not like blog commenting. Your job is not to merely accentuate the positive but to give constructive criticism. You have to figure out what isn’t working (and there’s always going to be stuff that doesn’t work at this stage) and then – eeek! – tell the writer that.

As part of my normal routine I read a lot of books and and observe authors’ writing styles. Along the way I notice things I might change or have written differently (is it possible to be a writer without doing this I wonder?) Given this, you might think beta reading would be a fairly straightforward task – just more reading and analysis with a bit of feedback tagged on the end. What I didn’t count on though, was how it would feel to actually give that feedback  – the conflict between wanting to be nice and the knowledge that niceness isn’t actually helpful at all.

Of course there was plenty of positive stuff to say, and I said it, but I knew it was my job to be critical too and that was tough. I’ve done a little bit of beta reading before but this was the first whole book I’ve provided feedback on so it was a big learning curve for me. It was a very useful challenge though, that I’m sure has helped me as a writer. I suspect there were problematic aspects I noticed as a beta reader that are also present in my own writing but which go unnoticed simply because I know my own work too well. I now feel I can approach my editing with more knowledge and experience and fresher eyes (if that makes sense?). Anyway, I really appreciated having the opportunity so thank you Iona (and congratulations on your book)!

This week I also started making amendments to one of my picture book manuscripts. I’ve loved getting caught up in Millie (my main character)’s world again but I’d forgotten how much it can trap me in my own head. We went for a family walk on Sunday afternoon and the whole time we were walking I was thinking up rhymes and trying to find a decent-sounding, non-heavy-handed way to get the point of the story across. As soon as we got home I had to dash inside and make copious notes. Sometimes I feel I’m not present enough as a parent when I’m in ‘writing mode’ – it’s like my brain won’t stop no matter how far I get from a pen or my lap top. Is it just me? That’s why I like doing the my limerick challenge with my boys – involving them with my writing makes me feel less guilty about my obsession with it!

Other achievements this week: I wrote two limericks, blogged about my kids language development and got two interviews with authors lined up! I’ve sent questions out and am looking forward featuring their responses on this blog. I’ve posted author interviews in the past and I’m keen to do more in the future – I learn so much!

All in all, a much better week than last week. :)

Muddled Manuscript

park – #WhatImWriting

Last week, after finally getting the feedback on my manuscripts I’d been waiting for, I was feeling motivated. The editors comments had given me a boost (albeit with an awareness that there was work to be done) and all your lovely comments added to that feeling – thank you! So there I was, raring to get going on the editing… revving up the engine… brum, brum, brum…

parking

Bruuuugggggggeeeerrrrkkkk, splutter, splutter. STALL.

Oh dear. It was partly due to having loads to catch up on after a really full-on few weeks, but also because I was waiting for a decent-sized chunk of time to dedicate to the manuscripts and there just wasn’t one.

Maybe I should have used the snippets of time I had available, but it’s been a couple of months since I even looked at my picture books and really wanted to be able to devote myself to them not just dive in for the odd half hour here and there. So, I’m afraid the car stayed firmly in the garage.

I did manage a blog post on toddler conversations and the #WhatImWriting April round up though so that was something at least. Perhaps the vehicle isn’t broken, it just needs a bit of attention to get the engine purring smoothly again.

It’s been a weird week though hasn’t it? The general election result threw me (and that’s putting it politely). It’s kind of sapped me of my energy and left me questioning all sorts of things. Wondering how society fits together is not proving to be conducive to making my words fit together.

And now I can’t for the life of me work out how to finish this post. I’ve been at it for an hour (seriously, I keep typing and deleting, typing and deleting). I’ll just go. No more car metaphors, no more words.

Writing Bubble

finally feedback! – #WhatImWriting

I’ll cut to the chase – a few days ago I received the manuscript feedback I’ve been waiting for! Yes, after seven weeks, three days, six hours and seventeen minutes (I may have made those last few numbers up) my inbox finally pinged with the editor’s opinion on my three picture book manuscripts!

picture books

And?

Well, it was pretty good! I mean, there’s stuff I need to work on, little bits to tweak in one of my stories, some alterations in another one and the third one possibly needs a large-scale re-think… hmm… but overall I was pretty pleased. It’s given me work to do without being too outfacing and also given me the sense that being published one day isn’t such a ridiculous dream. Well maybe – even writing that last sentence makes my self-doubt demon prick up his ears. But if he decides to launch an attack on my self-belief I now have this sentence (from the editor) to throw at him:

“You have three imaginative stories here, with a buoyant, humorous writing style and verses that read easily and well.”

I’m hanging on to that.

Anyway, I now have plenty to focus my attention on and the beginnings of a plan of action in my head. I know it’s going to be a long road to getting published but I feel I’m just that little bit closer now. And I’m determined to find some time this week to focus on the manuscripts. Life’s been so hectic recently but I think I’ve spotted a writing window later this week and intend to grab it! Carpe diem and all that.

Writing Bubble

editing – #WhatImWriting

I’ve read a lot of blog posts about editing in the last six months or so; some of them via our lovely ‘What I’m Writing’ linky and some from the blogosphere in general. They’ve all been interesting and I’ve often thought ‘hmm this could be useful information/advice/knowledge when I come to edit my novel in the future’. I’ve been making a mental note of a lot of what I’ve discovered – even a physical note from time to time – but by and large, I haven’t considered it relevant to me now. Not really.

editing

Then this week I realised – ‘for heavens sake, never mind the half-finished novel you flippin’ idiot, ‘Editing’ is exactly what you are doing to your picture books at the moment! All these editing posts are relevant now! Now, Now, NOW!’

You see, I think I thought that editing – proper editing – was something you could only do to a novel. Obviously, as I write that, it sounds idiotic especially as I’m aware I’ve been editing my books for ages (not to mention my short stories, flash fiction, poetry and blog posts – duh). But I’d somehow, in my head, been categorising doing that as ‘tweaking’ my work or ‘looking at rhymes’ or ‘making a few changes’. Actually, what I’ve been doing these past two weeks in particular (as I’ve been preparing to send my three manuscripts to be professionally appraised) has been really intense editing.

I’ve put masses of time and effort into issues of rhyme and meter (as you’d expect, with rhyming picture books), but I’ve also written out characters that were slowing the story down, I’ve cut massive chunks of text, given characters new names, written them occupations to add depth to their role, thought (more) about story arcs, reader expectation and experience and considered the balance of emotions in both the characters and readers. Then I’ve gone back to the beginning and looked at the bits I’ve always loved and, with a critical eye, slashed some of those too. So many words have been assigned to the trash heap! And then, of course, I’ve thought about layout – I have little mock-ups that I’ve made to help me visualise how my manuscripts might look as books. So it’s been a proper editing process!

And now? Well, today I sent off all three manuscripts. They’re out of my hands… now I just have to wait for feedback.

Eeep.

Writing Bubble